David: Living with schizophrenia
I've been living with my diagnosis of schizophrenia for more than 35 years now. I got it when I was a teenager. It wasn't my first diagnosis but it was the one that stuck. When I first got it, I thought my life was over. I was studying for exams and I wanted to be an economist. I didn't think anyone would want a schizophrenic economist.
I wasn't alone in thinking that. One of the things that struck me most was the low expectations that followed. This was particularly apparent amongst medical staff, all they saw was a label. The person I used to be, or might become, vanished. If enough people, particularly professionals, treat you like a lost cause, then sooner or later you end up believing it. I was fortunate that people who really understood my experience still expected me to achieve things. One in particular persuaded me to get actively involved in a local support organisation, expecting me to get on and do things for myself and others rather than becoming a passive patient.
Friends and relationships
Fortunately I had friends who believed in the old me. I also developed new friendships with people, many of whom had shared my experiences of psychiatric care.
Spending time with people who shared my experience, but had survived and thrived in spite of it, was an inspiration and many of these people remain good friends to this day. Not all my friends were able to cope with me and sometimes I felt very lonely and isolated, but there were times when it was only my friends that kept me going.
Treatments and services
Attitudes towards treatments were often unhelpful. It should be simple, the treatments either help or they don't. If they do, that's good. People should have access to the best available; if they don't, it's no one's fault and treatments that don't work shouldn't be forced on people.
Self-help, self-management and peer support are starting to help a lot of people. They have helped me and have given me the ability to help others.
My work has always been important to me, both before my time working in mental health and since. I have not always been able to work, and my best employers have been very supportive when I have been at my most unwell. Although work can sometimes be stressful, I have always found being out of work much worse. My work has given my life meaning and purpose, a chance to contribute.
My work in mental health has enabled me to take my experience of mental ill-health and use it to help others. I have had the opportunity to meet many people who have been directly affected by mental ill-health and still achieved great things. Together we have become part of an international community and are stronger for it.
When I first got my diagnosis, I thought my life was over. Now, 35 years later, I just think it's part of who I am. The people I care about, the people who matter, don't see a diagnosis, they see a person. It's been an interesting 35 years and I'm looking forward to many more.